LIVE UPDATES: Nine million people voted in United Russia’s primaries, which were marred by ‘carousel’ voting, forced voting, beating of an observer, firing of whistleblowers, and withdrawal of candidates.
Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here.
Recent Analysis and Translations:
– NATO Got Nothing From Conceding To Russia In the Past, Why Should It Cave To The Kremlin Now?
– Who is Hacking the Russian Opposition and State Media Officials — and How?
– Does it Matter if the Russian Opposition Stays United?
– Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov Has Invented A Version Of History To Meet His Needs
– Getting The News From Chechnya â The Crackdown On Free Press You May Have Missed
President Vladimir Putin himself urged United Russia to have primaries and to keep them honest. They were not honest, however. As Open Russia, the movement founded by exiled businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, documented and as the independent media reported, there were accusations of “carousel” voting (multiple votes at different precincts); forced voting (threat against factory workers that they would lose their jobs if they did not participate in mandatory bus rides to vote); dismissal of a whistleblower (she refused to go along with fraud); and beating of a critic exposing fraud. And this was just the primaries.
An RBC reporter who registered to vote in Moscow was easily able to vote at a district in Lyubertsy, a district in the Moscow Region suburbs, simply by showing up — a phenomenon known as “carousel voting” because some United Russia or even administration officials take labor migrants, or factory workers, or retirees, or anyone else they can commandeer on bus trips around to multiple election precincts to cast votes in their favor. Sometimes the voters are paid a small sum for this favor.
According to Klub Regionov [Club of Regions], a Perm Territory publication, Pushkov got only eighth place in the primaries, not high enough to ensure him a seat. Valery Trapeznikov, another MP from Perm Territory who got 7th place, is also believed to be unable to gain a seat. Both deputies garnered only about 1,000 votes a piece, according to an Ekho Moskvy Perm source.
The Insider reported that Dmitry Skrivanov, a deputy of the local Perm legislature and a businessman, got 29,900 votes and Igor Sapko, mayor of Perm, came in second; third place was taken by another serving MP from Nizhny Novgorod Region, Aleksandr Vasilenko, representative of Lukoil. This suggests that “administrative resources,” i.e. the advantage of incumbents to access advertising and campaign budgets, may have had an effect locally while figures most active and visible in Moscow and abroad, even if running in this provincial district, may not have benefited from.
Photo journalist Ilya Varlamov who traveled to Chelyabinsk recently has had fun posting pictures of old buses with a United Russia ad saying “Chelyabinsk – the Place You’ll Want to Live In!” that are rusting, out of order, or even being pushed by a group of people after stalling.
Another primary winner, according to Oleg Smolkin, head of United Russia’s Executive Committee, is Dmitry Sablin, head of Fighting Brotherhood and aide to former general and war veteran Boris Gromov whom we have covered for his role in not only the war in Ukraine but in supporting the Sever Battalion whose members are suspected of assassinating Nemtsov. Sergei Zheleznyak, who has proposed restrictions on the Internet won the primaries, as did Gennady Onishchenko, former head of Rospotrebnadzor, the consumer watchdog agency, who earned himself a page of his greatest quotes on Snob for his various conservative comments and malapropisms.
“Hamburgers, even if they don’t have worms, are not the right choice of nutrition for the populatiom of Moscow and Russia. This food is not ours!”
Onishchenko blamed the reformist Tsar Peter the Great for a “300 year drunk” of the Russian people and said he was confident Russia would return to its “patriarchal” roots, and go back to reading the Domostroi (an ancient book of instruction for right living). But he gave up the fight against rodents, saying they were “older than humankind” and while humans were “still crawling on all fours” they had already become “corporate animals.”
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Chaika’s current term was due to expire June 22; he has held the post since 2006. There was some speculation that he might retire, as he passed his 65th birthday on May 21.
Last December, anti-corruption campaign Alexey Navalany released a film about Chaika in which he said his two sons were involved in corrupt schemes but were protected by their father’s high position.
Under Russian law, Chaika was obliged to declare his income, which he posted as 8.79 million rubles ($131,472). He also declared that he had a GAZ-13 automobile, known as a “Chaika” (the word means “seagull” and this style of car has been favored by Russian officials since the Soviet era). He has an apartment (203.6 square meters) and 2 parking spaces. His wife reported an income of 7.59 million rubles, joint ownership in the apartment, and a non-residential building of 175.3 square meters.
His two sons are not required to make public their income and assets. There has been some discussion in parliament about requiring such disclosures but there has not been any Kremlin support for it.
Chaika objected that the film was a “production by Bill Browder and the CIA,” referring to the CEO of Hermitage Capital and his campaign for justice for Sergei Magnitsky. Former Interior Ministry official Pavel Karpov, himself on the Magnitsky List, also invoked the supposed role of Western intelligence. While there is no evidence for the claim and the “proof” provided so far have been flimsy and laughable, Kremlin propagandists have continued to claim Browder and Navalny are backed by both the CIA and MI6.
Chaika also later claimed the Panama Papers were a project of Western intelligence. Even so, he said he would investigate the claims about Russian offshores by sending inquiries to Panama authorities.
In his annual report, Chaika said crime had grown in Russia and cited the cases of 958 officials under criminal prosecution for corruption.
Cossacks surrounded him and his team several times and beat some of them severely by the airport in Arapa.
Navalny says several sources in the region knowledgeable about the relationship between the Cossacks and government agencies said that Leonid Korzhinek, the prosecutor of Krasnodar Territory, could be behind the attacks. Korzhinek had reportedly protected Sergei Tsapkov during his reign of terror before he was sentenced for the murder of an entire family.
“He organizes such things without a problem with a few phone calls and a few hints,” wrote Navalny.
Navalny also commented on Chaika’s reinstatement (translation by The Interpreter):
“This guarantees Putin the main quality in demand now in the country: loyalty. Chaika knows that he and his entire family and all his deputies can at any moment be put in jail (entirely justly!) for 20 years or so. And he is doing everything in order to deserve mercy and security.”
Navalny said he would file a request to investigate the prosecutor general’s office in both Moscow and Krasnodar regarding the attacks on him.
But if there is any follow up, it may be like the lackluster investigation begun after Navalny’s film — with those accused investigating themselves.
Babchenko has traveled to Ukraine to cover the war in the Donbass.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The rate of the ruble to the dollar is 66.80 and to the euro at 75.10. The price of Brent crude is $48.30.
The following headlines were taken from 7:40 na Perrone, Currenttime TV, Interfax, Vedomosti, Kommersant, RBC, Novaya Gazeta, HRO, Open Russia
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick